A group of tourists to the left in the foreground point to the arches above, as do both of Piranesi’s annotations. A ladder on the left and another on the right are perched against a wall, and a third leads down to the former “primo piano” that is now buried in ruins. Excavations there, the complete text of Piranesi’s lengthy title explains, revealed that the walls on that level were, like those visible on the contemporary ground-level floor, made of travertine. Annotations signal material evidence of construction methods and history: marks or indentations where geometric stones completed the arches (A) and walls constructed during the middle ages, which Piranesi disparagingly refers to as the “tempi bassi” (B). The building is presented here as a site of contemporary observation (through the eyes of the tourists), recent excavation (suggested by the ladder that leads down), and centuries of ruination and rebuilding (in the annotations). With visual and verbal cues, Piranesi reveals, within the restricted visual range that the veduta offers here, an expansive material history. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.